I know we sound like a broken record regarding submissions, but there are many things to consider before you press that all important send button.
After you’ve read your manuscript one last time to catch any little niggling mistakes, THEN run thorough spelling and grammar program check. You’ll be stunned and chagrined at what you find. I’ve experienced many a head-to-desk moment when I thought I’d fixed everything. Please spell check. Please.
As you work through your manuscript, see if you have any long and complex sentences. She was taken at once by the beautiful and vast spread of the desert before her with small dips and hollows, and was grateful she had taken some time studying about the plants and animals that had lived in this area and thrived regardless of the harsh weather conditions. How many times did you have to read this to figure out where it was going? You don’t want to lose your reader in a quagmire of unnecessary words.
Instead – maybe... She marveled at the vast and beautiful desert spread before her. After learning about the plants and animals that lived here, it still amazed her how they thrived in these harsh conditions. This brings the sentences into a pleasing cadence and simplifies it at the same time.
One trick to help detect these long, stumbling-block sentences is to read your work aloud. I know you’ve heard this before, and it can be embarrassing if you’re discovered reading to the family pet, but it really works. If you can’t read it aloud without tripping over the words, your reader will probably trip over them, too.
In your read-through, you may notice words you’ve used way too many times – pet words. Be aware of those as well. The Search and Replace tool is awesome for this job.
A necessary search-and-replace task will include eradicating ‘felt’ ‘began to’ ‘about to’ and ‘started to’. As an example, ‘he felt like he was about to hurl’ could simply read ‘he nearly hurled’. More punchy? Yep. ‘Felt’ isn’t a very strong word – and there are so many replacements available. Try variations of these words instead: sense, experience, suffer, undergo, think, believe, consider, deem, suspect. There are many others as well.
How about ‘he began to walk to the store’? It’s stronger as ‘he walked to the store’. Or ‘it began to pour buckets’ is better as ‘it poured buckets’.
Another search-and-replace task should include ‘was’ ‘that’ and ‘had’. Most incidences of ‘that’ can go away completely, as long as the sentence still makes sense. The words ‘was’ and ‘had’ may be part of a Passive Voice sentence, which we discussed a few weeks ago, and leads to weaker sentences and descriptions.
Yes, preparing a manuscript for submission is a TON of hard work. Almost as hard as writing it. However, if you want your readers captured by your story and eager for your next one, you have to take care of the structure that supports it. And the hard work will be so worthwhile.